Looking for a meaningful souvenir from your time abroad? Try keeping a journal or travel blog. It is amazing how much a person grows from their first week to their last week abroad. Jot down all of your cultural mishaps and language disasters. The Office of Study Abroad would love to link to your blog in order to share your experiences with other MSU students. Want to see an example? Visit: http://studyabroad.msstate.edu/bulldogs/blogs.html
Your Host Country and Its Laws
It is vital that you remember that you will be a visitor while studying abroad. It is YOU that will have to adapt to the new culture—not it to you. Don’t assume that American culture is better; it is only different. Open your mind to new things and to new ways of doing old things. Plan to do plenty of research before you leave on your host country’s customs, beliefs, politics, religions, holidays, and laws. Talk to MSU students who have visited the same country or to students from that country who are now studying at MSU. Remember: just because something is acceptable behavior in Mississippi does not mean it is acceptable where you will be living.
Not only could your behavior be loud and offensive to some, it could even be illegal. According to an article in the LA Times, 3,125 Americans were arrested abroad from October 2007 through September 2008. Drunk and disorderly behavior and drug-related crimes were often the reason for the arrest. Always remember that you are a guest in another country. The more you learn now, the easier your transition will be later. Review the following resources before you leave:
CIA World Factbook - https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/
Country Specific Information - US Department of State http://www.travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1765.html
Frommer’s Guidebooks - www.frommers.com
Let’s Go Guidebooks - www.letsgo.com
Lonely Planet Guidebooks - www.lonelyplanet.com
The Rough Guide - http://www.roughguides.com/
Advice from the U.S. Department of State
PLEASE REVIEW THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE’S “STUDENTS ABROAD” WEBSITE FOR FURTHER TIPS ON TRAVEL, HEALTH, EMBASSIES, NEWS AND ALERTS FOR STUDENTS STUDYING ABROAD.
Being American and Staying Safe
Your actions and opinions (intentionally or not) will contribute to your host country’s opinion of the USA, Mississippi, Starkville, and Mississippi State University. Locals will ask you many questions while you are abroad, and it is wise to think about these topics before you are asked by the gentlemen selling you a baguette in Paris. Possible topics might include US foreign policy, Afghanistan, Iraq, Bush, Obama, Slavery in Mississippi, Katrina, US banking industry’s role in the economic collapse, and other controversial issues.
Points to keep in mind:
- MSU cannot guarantee your safety while abroad.
- While abroad, try to blend in with the locals. Stay informed of local news and LOOK AT A MAP! You may not have had geography since you were 12, but that is no excuse. Learn the names of capitals and countries that surround you.
- Speak softly. Avoid the American stereotype of being loud and obnoxious.
- Try local foods and experience local culture. Eat at McDonald’s in Mississippi, but please don’t let the cashier at the McDonald’s in Hamburg, Germany know your order by heart. You didn’t cross the Atlantic to eat a Big Mac.
- Don’t do drugs unless you want a tour of the local jail. Understand and respect local laws.
- Do not drink excessively. Most of you will be allowed to drink legally while abroad, and some of you will even be able to purchase beer from your university’s cafeteria. Don’t abuse this new “power.” American students are notorious for overdrinking and getting themselves in trouble (and even getting robbed) while abroad. Drinking excessively in a foreign country is bad for your health and your reputation. Due to these reasons, MSU recommends that you avoid alcohol.
- Use the buddy system. Never go out or travel alone. If you are traveling with friends that are outside of your program, leave their names and contact information with your roommate, program director, or host family.
- Try to avoid protests and demonstrations that could escalate into dangerous situations. Anger intended for the U.S. Government could be directed toward Americans in the area.
- Don’t carry all of your credit/debit cards with you at any point in time. Avoid carrying a lot of cash or flashing your money around in an obvious way.
- Avoid being surrounded by a crowd. This is a perfect environment to be pickpocketed.
- Only use official taxis. This is very important to keep you safe. Also, learn local taxi customs. In many countries, meters are not used, and you must agree on a fare before you get in the taxi.
- Ask your program director what the safest means of transportation is throughout the city.
- Act confidently when in an area that seems unsafe. You usually won’t be targeted if you look like you know where you are and what you are doing.